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Katrina Time Line: Community Bank Keeps Cash Flowing

What follows are eight days in the life of hurricane-devastated Merchants & Marine Bank (Pascagoula, Miss.; $364 million in assets) and the people who worked to get its branches open for business, as related by Royce Cumbest, chairman and president, and Mike Dickson, executive vice president of operations.

Monday, Aug. 29: As Hurricane Katrina passes through Mississippi, three branches of Merchants & Marine Bank are flooded -- the main office collects almost five feet of water in the lobby . Fortunately, bank officer Mike Grimme exhibits quick thinking by carrying the mainframe computer upstairs, saving it from the deluge.

Tuesday, Aug. 30: "We assessed the situation and decided that we would move our operations center to an outlying branch," says Cumbest. The bank calls its core banking provider, Lincoln, Neb.-based Information Technology, Inc. (ITI), and receives an assurance from ITI's president, Tom Cypher, that help will come quickly.

Wednesday, Aug. 31: ITI technicians Pat Strizek and Steve Converse arrive at the new operations center to reconfigure the core banking system. Later that evening, Bob and Mike Williams from SYMCO (Atlanta) arrive with proof machines and other equipment that will enable the new banking center to go live. "Bob and Mike Williams were also good enough to stuff the compartments of those various pieces of equipment with food, water and supplies," relates Cumbest.

Thursday, Sept. 1: IBM representative Dave Clemmons arrives to reconfigure the bank's mainframe, allowing the branch to open as the bank's new operations center using power from a gasoline-fueled generator.

Friday, Sept. 2: Three offices open, all powered by generators. The bank manages to meet payroll for county employees. "We had to go to the top of a high-rise bridge, ... the only place in the county that was high enough so that we could reach some cell tower," relates Cumbest. "We were able to contact the banker's bank in Jackson. They got the Fed in Birmingham involved, and we got our first cash shipment on Friday. ... We stuffed envelopes so that employees were paid in cash that day and didn't have to wait in lines at the bank."

Saturday, Sept. 3: "Our usual hours don't include Saturday banking, but our customers were trying to get cash for basic needs," says Cumbest. "They needed food, water, ice -- and cash in order to purchase those items. Most of the merchants were only taking cash -- you couldn't use your credit card because the telephone lines were down." The bank did not yet have telecom access to ATMs or branches, but Todd Jones and Genece Minshew from BellSouth put the bank on a priority list for restoration of service.

Monday, Sept. 5: Telecom is restored. Eight offices are open.

Tuesday, Sept. 6: Ten of 11 offices are open.

As of press time, Cumbest reports that things have gotten better day by day, though many workers are operating "mostly out of our vehicles using our cell phones -- we go where we're needed," he says. "The main thing that we probably need right now is just a place to work so that we can go to the same place each morning."

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